Local Flavor

by Ed O'Reilly on 21 August 2007 5 comments

It was time again to stock up on some things, and so this past weekend I went to my usual places: the fish market in Pyrmont (where one employee asked me how work was going since the last time I saw him), the bakery in Coogee (where the owner told me how the surf was that day) and a stop for a long black at one of the many sidewalk cafes with a great view of the ocean in Bronte. There, I talked to a couple sitting next to me about some places in NYC they might want to visit on their upcoming trip to America. I wrote down the address of a couple of my old favorite haunts and they were off with, “Cheers, mate!”

On Sunday, I took a short ride over to the farmer’s market on the grounds of Fox Studios for some locally-grown produce (gotta get there early), then went into Chinatown for some loose Gunpowder green tea.

Sound like a lot of running around for just a few simple items? Not really. I get out for a couple hours, the distances aren’t really an issue, the scenery can’t be beat and I save a little money on what I buy.

But more importantly, I mix and mingle.

The value lies not in what you buy, or how much it costs; the true value is in simply reconnecting with other people.

Here in Australia, “small” merchants have not been run out of business by large, impersonal corporate franchises and “super-stores”. On the contrary: the small, privately-owned shops thrive, most people tend to buy local and – as a bonus – people get to know each other.

The atmosphere of a true village is alive and well with the ubiquitous cafes, intimate regional restaurants and independently-owned shops and markets offering everything you’d find in a supermarket or mall – but includes the opportunity for a more interpersonal experience.

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Guest's picture
Devan

Ed,

I heartily agree with you - I didnt realise that I had turned into a 'big chainstore' shopper until one day I decided to visit a smaller village shopping centre to get some items. When I walked into the fishmonger, he greeted me warmly and asked me how my parents were (my mum shops there all the time). We chatted for about 15 minutes. Then I went next door to the small shoe shop, and the guy there asked how my kids were, having remembered that my wife and I went there about a year ago to buy some shoes for my sons and myself.

It was the small things like this that really brought home to me the value of a personal connection with the people you deal with. That connection is SO important, and nowadays, I go out of my way to visit all the small, boutique shops around town instead of the big name stores.

Addendum: The reason for my visit to the shoe store was to buy replacement shoes for the ones I had bought there a year ago. I fully intended to buy a new pair, but when the owner saw the cracks that had developed on the soles of the original shoes, he insisted on taking them back and giving me a new (better) pair, only charging me for the difference in price. How about that - after one whole year of me walking around on them, he still effectively refunded me 100%. I will never buy shoes for anywhere else now!

Ed O'Reilly's picture

I find that my experiences here, in contrast to the (mostly) impersonal encounters I had with employees of franchises in NY, are strangely comforting; meaning, I'm still very aware of these encounters because, up until I moved here, I was simply not used to it.

It's like there's still a newness to it that I hope doesn't go away anytime soon.

I think with urban and suburban sprawl – giving rise to shopping centers, malls and huge supermarkets (among other outlets for purchases) – came an increased sense of disconnectedness between buyer and seller, as the relationship, however brief, was reduced to a fleeting engagement of simply moving a product from their shelf into your car.

Guest's picture
Kathleen

Ed - what a surprise, I never expected to find a post on Wisebread with some local flavour! I live in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney and frequent all the suburbs you mentioned, and am a big fan of the Farmers Markets at Fox Studios (I've never had better apples than from the grower there...). Thank you for the post and for the reminder that what many of us do every day, which is drink, eat, shop and support local, is actually a pretty special thing to be able to do.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for your post and perspective. Sometimes we get so caught up in getting the best deal and getting it our way that we forget there are other approaches. There is great intangible value in having strong relationships.

Also, considering your local involvement and then considering some of the complaints in my consumer advocacy post, I realize that there can be tangible, even financial benefits to the independent shops. A right item (item with the perfect fit or the piece of equipment that is appropriate for an application), though sometimes more expensive at a local shop than the mass retailer, can save money in the long run.  

Ed O'Reilly's picture

@ Kathleen: Yes, I'm the blogger Down Under ;)

As I settle more into my new surroundings (I'm also in the Eastern Suburbs) I find I'm more aware of the differences between my "old" life and the new one here; it's mostly in the details of everyday.

@ Julie: For some reason, I used to have the perception that small shops were always more expensive (and some are, I suppose) or had lower "quality", and that the "big" stores were simply more convenient and reliable. But, in many ways, it's almost the opposite here: for whatever reason, people are truly neighborly and it's easier to walk into town and form relationships with shop owners. 

A genuinely good relationship between buyer and seller can be priceless.